It’s often hard for Taylor Reed to explain to other teenagers the sport of taekwondo.
It’s an ancient martial art originating in Korea that combines the moves of hand-to-hand combat with kicking and self-defense techniques.
But just as important as a swift spin kick or hand strike are the historic tenets that define the sport — courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-discipline and invincibility.
Instead of trying to explain how this all works, it’s usually best if Reed just shows someone.
And in the ring, there are few teenagers in America who can demonstrate the art of taekwondo as well as Reed.
At 17, the Kalispell native is a national champion and a rising star in the world ranks of taekwondo.
Last month he won the AAU national championship in the junior light heavyweight division (161-172 pounds, 15-17 years old) at the U.S. National Championship competition in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His teammates, made up of competitors from Kalispell and Missoula, also came home with a team trophy, the first time a Montana squad has captured gold, according to team organizers.
John Paul Noyes, a grand master in the taekwondo ranks who opened Big Sky Martial Arts in downtown Kalispell in 1995 and coaches the state team, has developed a long line of talented competitors over the years.
But few fighters have risen to the level that Reed now occupies.
Since growing up here and taking his first lessons at age 5 at Big Sky Martial Arts, Reed has developed into one of the best black-belt martial artists around.
At age 7, he was talented enough to earn an invite to the national tournament, and was the youngest competitor at the time.
At age 10, he earned his black belt, becoming the youngest Montana athlete to accomplish the impressive feat, according to the International Taekwondo Federation.
After winning the national title recently, Reed returned to Fort Lauderdale for an elite competition pitting the 17-year-old against the three other top fighters from across the country.
Only coaches and athletes were allowed to attend, and the undisputed winner would earn the prestigious distinction of being on Team USA, which travels internationally and competes against the world’s best taekwondo athletes.
Reed had competed at this event twice before but had never won. This was his last chance before moving up to the seniors division, which will send him up against 18- to 32-year-olds.
“I knew if I wanted to make the national team I needed to do it now because it might be three years down the line before I’m on par with those upper level guys,” Reed said.
“I was anxious because I knew it was my last year and I took first at nationals.
I didn’t want to lose it.”
Reed trained seven days a week leading up to the big event, including running, practicing in the gym and watching footage of his opponents, studying their every move.
At the event, he advanced all the way to the championship match undefeated, just like he did at the national tournament. In the high-octane finale, he led the entire match until the last minute, when his opponent charged back and tied the match in the final seconds, sending it to overtime. In overtime, the first athlete to score wins.
The two athletes, staying composed under intense pressure, danced around each other for the first few moments until finally Reed’s opponent went for the attack. Reed covered and quickly responded with a big punch. It landed squarely for the win.
“It most nerve-wracking thing because I told myself I’m not losing right now,” he said.
“It was just so overwhelming. You work for so many years chasing your goal to be the best, and once you get there, it’s just crazy. You don’t know what to feel because you’ve never been there before.”
Reed earned the coveted nomination for Team USA. Only one other Montana athlete has been named to the U.S. National Taekwondo team: Chance Cole of Eureka in 2002, according to Noyes.
“Taylor was ready,” said Noyes, Reed’s coach. “He is very powerful and he’s mentally very tough.”
Reed returned home to finish his senior year at Flathead High School. He’s also training for the Pan American Games in Chicago in April, before going overseas to compete for Team USA in Germany.
From there, his goal is to keep climbing the ranks in pursuit of his ultimate goal: qualify for the Olympics. Taekwondo was a demonstration sport at the Olympics starting in 1988 and became an official Olympic competition in 2000.
Typically only four males and four females from the U.S. qualify for the Olympic team because of the limited number of athlete slots. Overall, only 52 males and 52 females from around the world get to compete in taekwondo at the Summer Olympics.
Reed is determined to try and defeat the odds and become the best in the sport.
He already has one believer.
“You have to be in the top 10 in the world to even think about the Olympics,” Noyes said. “And he has that ability.”
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